Will Vandy Make A Statement?

HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

IS THIS THE NIGHT VANDERBILT
MAKES A STATEMENT?


by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor

Tonight's Kentucky/Vanderbilt gets SPOTLIGHT coverage from us today. We took very close looks at Purdue/Ohio State and Syracuse/Georgetown earlier this week. Both Purdue and Syracuse scored road victories that helped solidify probable #1 seedings in the Big Dance. Kentucky hopes to do the same this evening on the road against Vanderbilt. Kansas would seem a lock to finish out the list of #1's with Kentucky, Purdue, and Syracuse even if they lose a couple of games between now and the end of the season.

For our purposes, we're much more interested in Vanderbilt tonight rather than Kentucky. Kentucky is a known quantity. They've been on TV a lot. John Wall is getting hyped as the next big thing in the sport (for pretty good reasons!). To the degree the media is missing something on Kentucky, we've cleared that up here in the NOTEBOOK by getting you to focus on their defense. Kentucky plays GREAT defense. And, about half of the credit that's going to Wall for their big season should be going to that killer defense instead.

Vanderbilt? They've played in the shadows all season. If you're only casually following the sport, you may not be aware that:

*Vandy is currently the second best team in the SEC with a 9-2 mark in league play. That trails only Kentucky at 11-1, but leads Tennessee, Florida, Arkansas, Mississippi State, and other SEC programs that the TV networks prefer to show! It seems like Tennessee and Florida are on every week. The SEC West is struggling this year, but they're getting some shots on ESPN. Vandy is only considered for coverage when they play one of the other TV teams. YOU need to forget that Florida won a couple of championships a few years ago...and that Tennessee occasionally plays great...and any illusions created by the fact that the media drives basketball coverage to football schools every year.

*Vandy is currently ranked #17 in the Associated Press poll, and #19 in the ESPN Coaches poll. The Commodores have been considered a top 20 caliber team most of the season (starting around 30th or so in the preseason projections).

*Vandy is currently projected to be a #4 seed in the Dance based on ESPN's bracketology feature. That's even a little better than their rankings. Obviously fourth is a respected seed. Should that hold up, what we see tonight could have some predictive value if Vandy faces a top seed in the Sweet 16 round (as the brackets would dictate barring upsets).

*Vandy is undefeated at home this year! That's where tonight's game is being played. The Commodores beat Florida by eight and Tennessee by nine in their previous SEC East 'challenge' games on this court.

It may seem odd to you that a team like Vanderbilt is in 'the game of the day' on a busy college basketball Saturday. That's truly the case though. This matchup is overshadowed by some of the BRACKET BUSTER coverage (don't forget to call 1-800-323-4453 to sign up for our top BRACKET BUSTER releases) and by ESPN's commitment to showcase UCLA/Washington for 'GameDay' stats that was made before everyone found out that UCLA was going to be horrible this year! The public knew that both Purdue and Ohio State were good...and that both Syracuse and Georgetown were good. Maybe this is the day it registers around the country that Vandy is also a threat to make some noise in the Dance.

We should point out too that an upset win for Vandy could have big ramifications in the seedings. It's MUCH better to be a #3 seed than a #4 seed because you can dodge a national superpower in the brackets until the last possible second. Vandy isn't thinking about that now. They just want a shot to take out hated Kentucky. YOU should be thinking about that as handicappers though.

*A win for Vandy tonight suggests they're a real threat to do damage in the Dance, AND MAY ALSO position them better to make that happen.

*A close loss for Vandy tonight probably keeps them where they are in the projections, but would cast some doubt on their tournament hopes. If you're worse than Kentucky on your home floor, how are you going to beat top quality competition on neutral floors?

*A bad loss for Vandy would kick them off our radar. We have noticed that some respected power ratings aren't as optimistic about Vandy as the polls are. The SEC has been in a downward phase the past couple of seasons. Maybe Vandy's just 'pretty good,' but it looks better than that on paper because so many other teams took a step backward. This is really a big game for us as handicappers. Vandy either moves to the 'take in March' list, or the 'go against in March' list.

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Let's run both teams through the ringer we've been using to build profiles this week and see if we can get a hint of what might be ahead.

TEMPO
Vandy is a fast team that plays even 'faster' because they earn so many free throw attempts. They're in the top 50 in pace...but are in the top 10 in the ratio of free throws to field goal attempts. We've talked about this a lot this year and last. The new way to success in college basketball is flying at the basket and daring defenses to deal with you. It either gets them in foul trouble, or gets you makeable shots if they back off.

Kentucky plays at almost the same exact speed. They're less effective from the free throw line though, so the scoreboard doesn't always tell that story. The first meeting between the two teams had about 71 possessions, not lights out fast but above the national norm. The total reached 157 (an 85-72 win for the Wildcats) even without a crazy fast past.

TWO-POINT SHOOTING
Vanderbilt is top 10 nationally in two-point shooting percentage with a 54% mark. Their defense is less impressive, allowing 45% for the season. That barely cracks the top quarter nationally. You regulars know we believe in defense more than offense, so this is a strike against Vandy in the big picture.

We've talked a lot this year about Kentucky's great internal defense. They're allowing just 40% on two-point shots this year...which is even better than it seems because of the tempo they play at. Fast games have some dunks and layups. Kentucky is in the top five nationally in two-point defense at a fast pace. Just a great job by John Calipari teaching defense in his first year as head coach. Kentucky shoots 53% on offensive two's, just a shade behind Vandy but still top 20 nationally. Calipari coaches championship style basketball as you know. Kentucky picked it up quick!

THREE-POINT OFFENSE
Vandy and Kentucky both follow the profile we've been seeing a lot of this week. They only take three's when they're open. That gives them an adequate shooting percentage (36% for Vandy, 37% for Kentucky) but ends up not impacting the bottom line so much. Vandy is a team that lives on one's and two's because they attack the basket. Only 23% of their points come on treys, 77% on one's and two's. Kentucky isn't quite as good at free throws. 76% of their points come on one's and two's. As purists, we have to say we're happy that top quality basketball is trending away from some of the launch-fests that had become so common.

BENCH PLAY
Vandy registers near the national average in bench minutes...which actually might put them ahead of the game come March because a lot of contenders have short rotations this year. They look to have enough depth to endure the season and tournament play. Kentucky is one of those teams with a shorter rotation. We're very interested in seeing if the up-tempo teams with short rotations are vulnerable in March.

Hopefully our articles this week have you thinking more deeply about college basketball. The media just isn't talking about this...but it's become very clear that a certain 'profile' is thriving in this sport right now...and that more and more teams are trending in that direction because they want to stay competitive. Try to watch the Kentucky/Vanderbilt telecast so you can get a fuller sense of that.

Who does JIM HURLEY like in the game? Well, you know we can't talk about that here in the NOTEBOOK. That information is for paying customers!

You can find out if Kentucky/Vandy is part of today's slate by calling 1-800-323-4453. Be sure to check on our PRIVATE LINE, BLUE RIBBON, and CASHLINE programs when you call. There are rumors of a very strong 'Game of the Year' type selection in the works as we go to press. That will be determined Saturday morning...so be SURE you follow up on that with a call to the office.

Don't forget that game day releases and packages can also be purchased here at the website with your credit card.

Today features:

*BRACKET BUSTER showdowns, some of which will be played at peak intensity, others will have some very clear no-shows. NETWORK's team of SCOUTS and SOUCES is great at finding out who cares and who's doesn't!

*Several Rivalry games where you throw out the stats and just watch the teams battle. This deep in the season, most of those are Rivalry Revenge games. Even better!

*Many 'bubble tracker' games where teams on the cusp of getting into the Big Dance really need to perform well.

We could probably list about ten categories. Kentucky/Vandy offers just one of many compelling stories on this busy card. What a GREAT DAY to sign up if you've been thinking about joining the service.

Your trip down THE ROAD TO MARCH MADNESS starts with just one step. IT'S TIME TO TAKE IT!

This article is part of the VSM MASTERS SERIES presented by VegasSportsMasters.com and JimHurley.com. For more information on JIM HURLEY'S handicapping packages, call 1-800-323-4453.

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